You know those superhuman folks who get up before the sun rises, toss back a green smoothie, and start their day with an invigorating five-kilometer run? I’ve always wanted to be one of those people. So despite my many failed attempts at becoming a fitness guru who actually enjoys cardio, I decided to try again by making a New Year’s resolution to start a running plan that I can feasibly stick to. Having played a ton of team sports growing up, I started this journey thinking my body would simply remember how to be a runner — boy, was I wrong. Within just a few weeks I had blistered toes, achy muscles, and a ton of annoying excuses. That’s when I realized that there’s more to becoming an avid runner than simply tossing on a pair of running shoes and hitting the trails. From investing in quality running gear to finding the perfect stride, here are 15 things to buy and try if you want to make running a lasting habit.
1. Buy shoes that are made for runners. If there’s anything I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that not all running shoes are created equal. I totally understand why you’d be hesitant to drop $100+ on a brand new pair of running shoes when you have a decent pair of sneakers sitting in your closet, but finding the right pair can really make all the difference to prevent injuries and strengthen your run. When looking for shoes that are made for runners, pay particular attention to whether the shoe is wide enough. You should be able to move your foot slightly side to side in the shoe’s forefoot. You should also consider the heel, arch type, instep, and length (there should be a thumb’s width of space between your toes and the end of the shoe). I’ve personally been loving the Saucony Freedom ISO ($160) and the Brooks Levitate ($150) because of their springy feel and great energy return. If you’ve decided to invest in some top-quality running shoes, I suggest heading to your local running store and testing a few models — the staff are usually super knowledgeable about all the latest advancements in running gear, and they’ll be able to steer you toward a running shoe that fits properly.
2. Learn proper running form. If you want to avoid a serious injury, learning proper running form is essential. According to Altra Running, runners should adopt a forward momentum posture by standing tall and keeping their chest forward and shoulders back and relaxed. Swinging your arms is encouraged, but make sure to swing them forward and backward, and avoid crisscrossing them in front of your body. Whatever you do, do not land on your heels — instead, aim to land your foot softly underneath a bent knee.
3. Join a running group. If you’re struggling to make running a priority in your hectic week, consider joining a running club. “I really struggled with running,” says Assistant Director of Marketing Communication at Southern Utah University Nikki Koontz. “In the beginning, I had great intentions, but my motivation would waiver after a few days and I couldn’t get into a good routine. I had all kinds of excuses: too busy, too sore, too many blisters, out of breath easily, etc. It was hard making running a habit and I didn’t know where to begin, but then I found a local running group through work and attended a beginner’s introduction meeting. It was the best decision I ever made because the group was so encouraging.” Don’t assume all clubs cater to marathon runners — check out social media and search for a running group specifically for beginners if you’re worried about falling behind the pack.
4. Find a sports bra that actually fits. It’s time to talk about the girls. When choosing a sports bra specifically for running, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. “Typically a runner will seek support and the ‘held-in’ sensation, whatever their cup size,” says Senior Vice President of Women’s Design at Lululemon Audrey Milligan Reilly. “During a run, the breasts continuously move in a complex three-dimensional pattern that looks much like a skewed figure eight.” So what exactly should we be looking for when picking out a running sports bra? “A bra with encapsulation of each breast will provide the most precise levels of support and movement management, and a natural, sculpted feel. A compression bra where the breast tissue is compressed against the chest wall can be easier to put on, like a t-shirt, and often comfortable for all-day wear,” suggests Reilly. I recently tested out the Lululemon Speed Up Bra ($78), which is specially designed to stay in place and wick away moisture, and let me tell you — it was a lifesaver on the trails. In terms of fit, make sure to look for a bra that practically feels like a second skin. “Generally speaking, nothing should be digging in, cutting into, or poking any part of the breast tissue,” Reilly says. The band should sit firmly under the bust and be parallel to the ground, and the straps shouldn’t be too loose or too tight.
5. Make sure to stretch before you take off. Before you begin your run, give your muscles a quick warm-up. There are tons of tutorials online with easy stretches to do before a run, but I particularly like Polar‘s five easy stretches that can help start off your run with happy muscles and reduce the chance of injury.
6. Take advantage of your recovery days with rolling exercises. Tom O’Rourke has trained LL Cool J, professional boxers, and celebrity clients for over 25 years, and he always advises his clients to use a BodyworksBall ($35) if they are starting to incorporate running into their workout. If your muscles are sore from your run, O’Rourke recommends using a roller for one to two minutes at a time to help roll out your IT bands, feet, shins, calves, and glutes. “What I like about the BodyworksBall is it allows people to roll upright, against the wall, rather than rolling around on the floor with a foam roller. My clients can control the amount of pressure they need to use, as compared to gravity forcing its weight when people roll around the floor.”
7. Invest in running socks. What the heck are running socks, you ask? They’re high-compression foot gear that can improve your run time and decrease your chance of getting an injury. While some running socks go all the way up to your knees, we’re fond of the no-show variety — we particularly love the CEP Dynamic+ No Show socks ($19). Not only do they offer the typical high-compression feel found in most running socks, but they’re also super padded to prevent blisters, provide ankle and arch stability, and are antibacterial. Another great option is the Swiftwick Aspire Zero ($8+), which are moisture-wicking and have a seamless toe to prevent blisters.
8. Fuel yourself before your run. To eat the banana or not to eat the banana? The fitness world has debated over whether or not you should eat before going on a morning run for years, but the experts at Runner’s World are here to set the record straight. “For an easy workout of one hour or less, going without food or drink probably won’t do you any harm (just make sure you’re staying hydrated),” writes expert Pamela Nisevich Bede. “But for any event that’s longer or more intense, pre-workout fuel is critical. Go out on empty and you’ll fatigue sooner, plus you’ll have a much tougher time meeting your goals.” A good pre-run meal usually includes foods that are low in fat and fiber but high in carbs. Just remember, timing is everything when deciding your pre-run meal. “Each person is different, but you’ll want to eat at least 30 minutes before you head out so you don’t have GI distress when you’re on the road. Within 20 minutes of finishing your workout, have a protein-rich snack to repair muscle tissue, and carbohydrates to restock your spent energy stores,” Bede advises.
9. Utilize apps like Map My Run and track your progress. If you’re trying to develop a new habit, one of the best ways to make it stick is to create a schedule and promote accountability. Map My Run (available on iOS and Android) is a very popular app that runners use to record their running routes using GPS tracking and measure their distance, duration, pace, and calories burned. It’s also a handy app if you’re trying to find good running trails in your area, and you can schedule push notifications to remind you of your scheduled runs. Heck, you can even track the depreciation of your running shoes and get notified when it’s time for a new pair to avoid injuries.
10. Find workout leggings that are functional and cute. “When choosing a running tight or capri, it’s important to consider features that are going to keep you comfortable on your run — ideally a pair that you don’t have to even think about while you’re running,” says Brooks Apparel Merchandising Manager Heather Cvitkovic. “Paying attention to potential chafe areas like seams and drawstrings will help ensure you’re comfortable on the run.” Cvitkovic also believes that sweat-wicking fabric is key to comfort, especially on those mega hot days. “Finally, storage is a great feature to have in your tights, ensuring that you are able to carry all of your belongings without them weighing you down or becoming soggy.” I’ve been loving the Brooks Ghost High-Waist Mesh Crop ($90) right now — the material is fantastic at keeping my lower half dry, I love that the leggings are practically weightless, and I’m obsessed with the hidden pocket in the band.
11. Download a good playlist or podcast. To stay motivated when the going gets tough, finding the right running playlist is a must. Personally, I’m a big fan of upbeat pop feminist anthems (think P!nk, old-school Christina Aguilera, and Little Mix), but some runners find that listening to podcasts while running helps them stay even more focused. “Music never seemed to quite do it for me, and the entire time while running I would be guesstimating how many minutes a song lasted and would count down miles ran according to the number of songs played,” says registered dietitian and aspiring fitness warrior Casey Seiden. “Once I got tuned into podcasts, that all changed. Find a topic you’re interested in, such as politics, nutrition, fitness, or a crime series podcast, and you’ll soon forget about how far, or short, you’ve run. I look forward to my runs each week because I know I have new and engaging content to listen to and accompany me.”
12. Make sure to get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can benefit many areas of your life, including your runs. “For example, running leads to dehydration, and sleep gives the kidneys a chance to balance sodium, water, and electrolytes to help the body more efficiently rehydrate,” says certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo Chris Brantner. “Deep sleep, or slow wave sleep, is necessary for adequate muscle recovery after hard runs. Growth hormone is also released during slow wave sleep, which allows your muscles to gain the full benefits from your working out that took place during the day. And finally, running requires mental toughness — and a good night’s sleep gives you the tools and concentration to have exactly that.”
13. Make sure you have somewhere to store your phone and keys. There are a ton of products on the market that help you store your essentials when you’re running, including running belts, hidden pockets in running leggings, and arm straps (we’re particularly fond of this Running Phone Armband [$12]). Because every runner has different preferences and storage needs, don’t be afraid to experiment with different equipment until you find the product that works best for you.
14. Lay out your clothes the night before. If you want to start your day off with a sunrise run, you need to set yourself up for success. Instead of puttering around looking for all your gear when you’re still a little groggy and grumpy, Boston Marathon qualifier and sports coach Mike Van Hoozer advises to lay out all of your clothes the night before. “This habit is used by most runners to make it easy to get out the door and go running first thing in the morning,” he says. “The more things you have to do in the morning to go run, the more time you have to make excuses.”
15. Sign up for a short race. Once you’ve mastered your running technique, found a regular schedule, and invested in proper equipment, it’s time to challenge yourself. Consider signing up for a short race that’s still a few months out. Tell everyone you know that you’re signing up and pre-pay for the event so you’re motivated to put in the time to train. Having a tangible goal with accountability will help you stay on track and push you to reach new milestones.
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